This chapter has shown how MENA groundwater users, water professionals and politicians have managed renewable and fossil groundwater resources during three decades. The potential demand for water doubled during this period with the doubling of the region's population. There are four main conclusions. First, renewable groundwater aquifers are too easy to utilize and to damage in the absence of a regulatory culture. The ease with which they can be turned on and off to comply with the users' needs makes renewable groundwater very popular indeed. But nowhere is there a balanced approach to achieving collective interests.
Second, fossil water resources, of which the region has a significant volume both in northern Africa and in the Arabian peninsula, are expensive to develop, and the pumping and delivery infrastructures are also expensive to maintain. The oil-rich economies that have developed them have been expensively addressing a fantasy of self-sufficient food security without recognizing a much more hazardous technological dependency.
Third, the region has not developed the institutions and the political culture to install regulatory measures that would address the collective interests of the populations of an individual state. At the interstate level international customary law is very poorly developed with regard to groundwater shared by more than one state. With only minor exceptions, there have been no formal negotiations over trans-boundary groundwater despite the urgency of the problems facing managers. The issues have been discussed at scientific conferences on water resources, focusing on the shared North African aquifers. Data are beginning to be shared and published by agencies such as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Centre for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe (CEDARE), but as the issues are not urgent it is understandable that progress over cooperation is slow.
This chapter has emphasized that institutional development is slow as a result of the lack of diversity and strength of the MENA economies. This lack of diversity and strength is in turn the result of the patrimonial political and governance regimes that characterize the region. Israel, a non-patrimonial state, has demonstrated that water problems are easily manageable within a diverse and strong economy. Diversity and strength come when the political circumstances enable the productive combination of the factors of production. Sound water management is associated with economic strength and especially economic diversity. These socio-economic virtues are a consequence of political processes that combine and manage resources effectively.
The MENA region has too many examples of the social and cultural conditions that determine short-term water-using practices. Renewable groundwater is too easily developed. Regulation cannot be installed. Everywhere water policy is made by officials, politicians and water users with mindsets established in the demographic and water-using practices of the past. Water-managing policies evolve that molest as little as possible the users of big volumes of water in irrigation. This is especially the case in the use of groundwater, which has indeed proved to be a very popular water resource with farmers.
As a result of the easily initiated and impossible-to-stop forms of renewable groundwater use, individual MENA economies have experienced the comfort of renewable groundwaters in rural areas for periods of 20-40 years. Renewable groundwaters has supported very important and timely rural transitions. Irrigation, as well as supplementary irrigation, has enabled rural families to enjoy a period of higher income than in the past. The period of greater prosperity has come about in combination with improved public services. Together these factors have enabled a couple of generations of young people to gain education and skills that have eased their transfer from rural areas with poor long-term prospects to the cities of the region.
Was this article helpful?